Without a doubt, OBAN is one of the pivotal communities in the development drive of Ejagham nation culturally and otherwise. It is therefore not a surprise that the OBAN extraction became the creator of a flagship annual cultural festival that has become the arena for socio-cultural interactions and entertainment, allaying a blend of undiluted unity in cultural oneness.
Figure 1Figure 1HRH Ntufam Stephen Edet Mbey Executing Libation at the commencement of 2018 Akachak Festival
This innovation is aimed at the revival of the Ejagham tradition, customs and culture encapsulated in the display of a variety of beautiful dances, colourful masquerades, super tasty cuisine and rich art and crafts of Ejagham people.
As the saying goes ‘’ give honour to whom it is due’’. It is therefore proper to mention that the Akachak as it is perceived today was the brainchild of Late Justice (Chief) Peter Odo Effiong Bassey. He conceptualised and presented the idea at Oban Congress with encouragement of his brother the Late Prof Charles Effiong (1st indigenous Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar) and the support of the Oban Ntufam’s Council in 1982.
The Oban Congress was initially a gathering of the Oban people who came together to discuss issues affecting the community. These congresses were lengthy. So it was decided to incorporate some side attraction to make the congress more entertaining. So in 1984, the first pieces of entertainment added were drama presentations and cultural dances competition. Three years later the Miss Oban Beauty Pageant was introduced. Fast forward, in 2009 Oban Ntufam’s Council resolved to host a full-fledged cultural festival in Oban.
After the blueprint was drawn, eligible age groups were directed to create the different Ejagham cultural displays (masquerades and dances). This new festive activity was named the AKACHAK FESTIVAL. So in 2010, the Oban Akachak Festival was inaugurated. The inaugural edition featured six age grades with only Ekan Offa presenting a masquerade called Mgban Offa.
The festival also features other fun events during this festive period apart from the Miss Oban beauty pageant. They include excursion to Sir Amory Talbot Peak of Oban Hills between 2010-2017 and Etae Itokem (Itokem’s Rock) in 2018, Besinghe (wrestling), Age Grade football competition, Native cuisines competition, Akachak 10km Marathon and other side attractions.
AT THE CORE OF OBAN AKACHAK FESTIVAL
“The Ejagham people have always been known for their rich culture, mastery of sculptures and other distinct aspects of traditions” (Chief POE Bassey, History of Oban). Today, the young generation are completely oblivious of the Ejagham tradition, customs and cultural heritage. This lack of knowledge amongst the youths has allowed traditional lapses and created behavioural impudence towards trado-cultural beliefs. Embedded at the core of Oban Akachak Festival is the revival of the body of knowledge of Ejagham Tradition. The Akachak festival has therefore become a melting pot of the rich accumulations of Ejagham tradition, customs, culture and values.
HIGHLIGHTS OF AKACHAK FESTIVAL 2018
The Nchibe Dance – Warriors Dance
Nchibe is one of the most prestigious dances performed by the Ejagham people. It is an important all men dance.
Figure 2 Nchibe dance during the festival
The Nchibe masquerade is held in very high esteem. The masquerade must be donned by an indigene whose parenthood is not in doubt.
Figure 3 Nchibe dance and Acolyte
Figure 4 Nchibe walking on Leopard skin
It is worthy of note that the Nchibe does not walk on bare ground but on a leopard skin. The significance of walking on Leopard skin shows royalty and the level of respect accorded the masquerade.
During its performance, two able bodied men are assigned to manoeuvre the skin for the Nchibe to ensure that Nchibe steps on the leopard skin. The male Nchibe is always restrained and controlled by an able bodied man. Nchibe is both male and female.
Figure 5 Nchibe dance paying respect to HRH Ntufam Stpehen Edet Mbey
Figure 6 Nchibe dance Male (left) and Female (right)
The female is always beautifully dressed and adorn with colours. According to Ancient traditions, nothing crosses the front of the Nchibe and survives to tell the story. The male and female Nchibe can be likened to what is fondly referred as “the beauty and the beast”.
Nchibe dance step is called ‘Echemim’ which literally means ‘stepping’ due to its peculiar dance style. The Nchibe is danced by both the old and the young.
Figure 7 Nchibe dance being cheered by young performers during the festival
The Nchibe has an egg basket bearer. The egg bearer occasionally launches an egg on the forehead of the Nchibe any time it becomes too aggressive to handle. When the Nchibe sets out there is always a young boy of about ten (10) years that leads the way.
Figure 8 Nchibe dance and the egg bearer
It is believed that Nchibe has a soft spot for children.
Figure 9 Ekan Offa women cheering the Male Mgban Offa dance during the festival
Nowadays Nchibe performers include both men and women. The dancers that accompany the masquerade are clad in white wrapper and carry two sticks while Nchibe carries steel arrows.
Figure 10 Nchibe dancers bearing arrows
Figure 11 Nchibe dance and accompanying dancers
Ache Abo Dance
In the early 18th century, as supported by myth, the women in an effort to respond to the different social gathering convene by men folks decided to have theirs.
Figure 12 Ache Abo Dance during the festival
Prior to Ache Abo dance, EKPA institution is another and arguably the most dominant Ejagham women socio-cultural institution, doubling as a judiciary system for the enforcement of norms and
punitive mechanism for women. In the Ejagham language the term “Ache” means PLAY. According to the Oxford Advanced Dictionary, it is the engagement in activity(ies) for the purpose of enjoyment and recreation. ABO means HANDS. Together, ACHE ABO is the rhythmic clapping of hands accompanied by songs and in modern times, drums.
In ancient times, Ache Abo was a dance group made up of mostly married women but today all females who have come of age are allowed to dance with the older ones.
Figure 13 Ache Abo women dancers identified by their uniform
Figure 14 Ache Abo women dancers identified by their uniform
Figure 15 Ache Abo women dancers identified by their uniform
Fast forward to the present day, Ache Abo has transformed from the use of hands to the use of sticks (ati nyhayhagha), a product of bamboo plant. This innovation was to eliminate the pain incurred due to prolonged clapping during the performance. This therefore attests to the fact that the Ejagham Woman is capable of creativity. Today, Ache Abo performance groups from different communities have uniforms that stand them out wherever they perform.
Figure 16 Ache Abo women dancers identified by their uniform
Besinghe (Wrestling) – Fight of the Brave
This is the Ejagham traditional wrestling contest. Historically, besinghe was a contest for young bachelors seeking a hand of a maiden in marriage. The activity which started as a mere social and relaxing event, later became a basic requirement for selecting potential wife in the community.
Figure 17 Besinghe performers
As a competitive sport, Besinghe is a friendly physical strength showing technical and tactical understanding of belief and fitness. Winning comes when one of the competitors is wrestled to the ground on his back.
Figure 18 Besinghe performers
In the present day, like in ancient times a circle is drawn on the ground, representing the boundaries of the wrestling envelope. Any competitor who goes outside the circle is disqualified. The other person automatically becomes the winner. This sport has become a part of the Akachak festival.
Figure 19 Besinghe performers